Bert Trautmann, 89, former German POW won Britons’ hearts with soccer
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS July 21, 2013 12:04AM
FILE - A May 5, 1956 photo from files of Bernd Trautmann, more commonly known as Bert, Manchester City's German-born goalkeeper, centre, being assisted from the pitch by two unidentified players, suffering from a broken neck, during the FA Cup final against Birmingham, at London's Wembley Stadium. The German football federation said Friday, July 19, 2013, that Trautmann died in La Llosa, near Valencia, Spain, where he lived. Trautmann’s wife Marlies told the federation he died Friday morning. Trautmann had suffered two heart attacks this year but appeared to have recovered well. Manchester City called Trautmann one of the club’s “greatest goalkeepers of all time and a true club legend.” (AP Photo/PA, File) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Updated: August 23, 2013 6:26AM
FRANKFURT, Germany — Bert Trautmann, a former German World War II prisoner of war who became Manchester City’s goalkeeper and helped the team win the FA Cup despite a broken neck for the last 17 minutes of the 1956 final, has died, the German soccer federation said. He was 89.
The federation said Mr. Trautmann died in La Llosa, near Valencia, Spain, where he lived. Mr. Trautmann’s wife Marlies told the federation he died Friday morning.
Mr. Trautmann had suffered two heart attacks this year but appeared to have recovered well, the federation said.
“Bert Trautmann was a great sportsman and a real gentleman,” federation President Wolfgang Niersbach said. “He came as a soldier and war enemy to England and became a celebrated hero.”
Manchester City called Mr. Trautmann one of the club’s “greatest goalkeepers of all time and a true club legend.”
“There are fewer better examples of the power of football to build bridges than Bert Trautmann,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said.
Mr. Trautmann made 545 appearances for City between 1949 and 1964 and was revered for his performance in the team’s 1956 FA Cup final win over Birmingham.
In 2004, he was appointed an honorary Officer of the British Empire for his efforts to improve Anglo-German relations. He was also awarded the highest German decoration and once said his heart “beats for both countries.”
Born in Bremen between the two world wars, Mr. Trautmann joined the Luftwaffe and served as a paratrooper during World War II, earning an Iron Cross. He was captured in Russia, escaped and was captured again by the British as the war drew to a close.
He was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, near Wigan, where Mr. Trautmann caught attention during soccer games played there.
Mr. Trautmann made England his adopted country and declined to be repatriated. He married locally, worked on a farm and later with a bomb disposal unit in Liverpool. His performances with the non-league club St. Helen Town often brought out crowds of 9,000 — huge by the team’s standards — and caught the eye of Manchester City.
Mr. Trautmann joined the club in 1949, accompanied by the protest of 20,000 with memories of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany still fresh.
During one of his first games in London, still bearing the signs of heavy damage from Germany’s air raids, Mr. Trautmann overcame a hostile reception to play so well that at the end of the match, the players formed a line on either side of the tunnel and applauded him, while the Fulham crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Mr. Trautmann was the first German to play in a Wembley FA Cup final when City finished runner-up to Newcastle in 1955. One year later, Mr. Trautmann became the star of City’s championship.
City had taken a 3-1 lead against Birmingham, and with 17 minutes to go Mr. Trautmann dived at the feet of onrushing forward Peter Murphy. The Birmingham player’s knee collided with the City goalkeeper’s neck, and Mr. Trautmann was knocked out.
At the time, no substitutions were allowed, and Mr. Trautmann, although unsteady, returned to his place between the posts, according to an account on City’s website.
Mr. Trautmann made two more outstanding saves and then collided with his own defender, Dave Ewing, and had to be revived again before he could play on. While receiving his medal, Mr. Trautmann complained of a “stiff neck.”
It was only three days later that an X-ray revealed a broken neck.
Mr. Trautmann was honored as the Football Writers’ Player of the Year eight days before the final, the first foreigner to earn the honor.
“I played over 500 league games for City, but that moment is still the one people refer to. So it can be a little frustrating at times, because no matter how well I played during that time, people will still say, ‘Ah, you’re the fellow who broke his neck playing at Wembley,’” Mr. Trautmann once said.
After the final, Mr. Trautmann needed time to recover from injury and personal tragedy — his 5-year-old son was struck and killed by a car. But he did and played on until he was 40.
During his career, he saved 60 percent of the penalties he faced.
Although a capable position player, he was forced into goal after getting hurt during a match. Tall and athletic, Mr. Trautmann was a natural.
He would later claim his training as a paratrooper made it easy for him to perform acrobatic dives because he knew how to fall to the ground without injuring himself, according to a biography posted on City’s website.
He made his City debut in a 2-0 loss to Arsenal and played in 100 consecutive games before missing a match because of injury.
West Germany at the time selected only home-based players, and he never played for the country of his birth. When West Germany won the 1954 World Cup, he was a translator for the team.
Soviet Union goalkeeper Lev Yashin, considered by many to be the greatest ever, once said he knew only two world-class keepers — himself and Mr. Trautmann.
After retiring, Mr. Trautmann helped in the development of soccer in Africa and worked on improving Anglo-German ties.